Posted by Brittany Dingler
We all have different sex education experiences from our high school days, ranging from no experience at all, to an abstinence-based approach, to a pure anatomy and physiology take, to more progressive student-led discussions about protection, prevention and resources.
Rarely, however, does sexual education seem to touch on how to communicate: a vital component of any intimate activity, that ensures both effective consent and a meaningful connection. Additionally, to avoid uncomfortable discussions, inept metaphors are often employed to define different common sexual activities, most often the hetero-normative baseball metaphor that inhibits inclusivity and equality among those in the conversation.
Al Vernacchio, a teacher of Human Sexuality at Friends' Central School in Philadelphia, offers a new linguistic model of talking about sex that combats these evasive and isolating maneuvers: pizza.*
Vernacchio presents the symbolic pizza as a healthy and necessary alternative to the classic baseball metaphor, which allows for only one way to proceed: the offensive and hetero-normative power struggle between "pitcher" and "catcher," and the competitive push to eventually make it "all the way" around the bases.
By refreshing contrast, the pizza metaphor allows you to order for yourself while encouraging dialogue with your pizza "partner." To wit, both might not like the same toppings, might only want to try a bite or, as Vernacchio half-jokes, may not be hungry at all. Even for those who have been in a relationship for a while, the self-proclaimed "sex scholar" suggests that this system allows for open dialogue about changing things up while ensuring consensual and sensual needs are both still being met.
Vernacchio's insight into the need for a change in conversation may be more relevant to Skidmore students than it appears at first blush. While one current sophomore thinks "Skidmore's [Center for Sex and Gender Relations] does a great job with breaking down the social taboo that it is not okay to talk about sexual health," there is still work to do at the individual student level.
Some Skidmore students, for example, recall the discomfort of their initial sex education experience as nearly intolerable. One first-year female says she "remember[s] very little about [sex education], but it might have been because [she] tried to repress those awkward moments." She also admits that her sex education teacher tended to avoid open conversations as "most people were at very different comfort levels with these topics."
Encouraging people to be more comfortable having honest and open conversations about sex is a struggle, and one that is unlikely to diminish when it comes time to discuss who has protection in the "heat of the moment." This may explain the huge incidence of STIs, such as chlamydia, disproportionately present across college campuses and particularly rampant at Skidmore.
This incidence could be dramatically diminished if prospective partners could find a more comfortable way to have "that talk." It therefore seems that it would behoove us all to take Vernacchio's lead and embrace more cozy colloquialisms for sex metaphors, signal words if you will, with which you and your partner are comfortable using when necessary, or simply when ordering pizza.
*Come play with your Peer Health Educators as we build a "pleasure pizza" in the Dining Hall for the "Sexy Safety" atrium event this Thursday, from 5:30-7:30 PM.